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Korean - basic questions

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administrator
Hexaglot
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 Message 1 of 49
24 January 2005 at 9:15am | IP Logged 
I will update the Korean profile on this website based on the discussion on the forum. Since my knowledge of this language is limited to a couple dozen movies, I wonder if anybody can shed some light on the following questions about learning the Korean language:

1. What are the most difficult parts of learning Korean?
2. What is the easy part of learning Korean?
3. Is Korean more difficult than Japanese?
4. Is Korean more difficult than Chinese?
5. How hard is it to pronunciate Korean correctly?
6. How far can you get with the Korean alphabet?
7. Will a knowledge of Chinese characters help you with Korean?
8. Are Koreans forgiving of the mistakes you can make in their language?
9. Are there any quality Korean language self-study program with many tapes?
10. Is Korean a tonal language?
11. Are there common words between Korean and Japanese or Chinese?
12. How difficult is Korean Grammar?
13. How quick can you begin to read a Korean newspaper?
14. How difficult is it to follow a Korean movie?
15. If you can buy only 3 books to learn Korean, what should they be? (books that supplement a program with tapes)
16. How useful is it to speak Korean when travelling or doing business in Korea? Can you get along with English?
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kidnickels
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 Message 2 of 49
24 January 2005 at 12:28pm | IP Logged 

I am no expert on Korean but I've looked at the language enough to answer a few questions.

administrator wrote:

3. Is Korean more difficult than Japanese?
4. Is Korean more difficult than Chinese?


I would say no to both of these questions, as Korean has an actual alphabet.

Quote:
5. How hard is it to pronunciate Korean correctly?


Not as hard as Mandarin.

Quote:

6. How far can you get with the Korean alphabet?


It's an alphabet; if you can learn the Cyrillic or Greek alphabets, you can learn the Korean one. The actual order of characters is a little different than any other language I've seen (they're combined into syllables according to a simple set of rules), but I don't think it's any harder than learning to read right-to-left in other languages.

Quote:
10. Is Korean a tonal language?


No.

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manna
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 Message 3 of 49
24 January 2005 at 1:14pm | IP Logged 
administrator wrote:
following questions about learning the Korean language:


Please do wait for Ardaschir's answers, he's more knowledgable on this. He might correct me on this.

Quote:
1. What are the most difficult parts of learning Korean?


I'd say the different levels of politeness and thus the many verb endings.

Quote:
2. What is the easy part of learning Korean?


The alphabet, it's logical.

Quote:
3. Is Korean more difficult than Japanese?


I'd say the grammar is more complicated in some ways, but as a beginner I wouldn't say there is a difference.

Quote:
5. How hard is it to pronunciate Korean correctly?


Not too hard to be understood, quite hard to get the different sounds really right (j, ch etc.). To many European ears there is simply no difference between them. You'll be understood alright since in the context the correct pronunciation is less of a problem.

Quote:
6. How far can you get with the Korean alphabet?


Very far. This question is probably geared to compare with the Chinese characters (Hanja). Eventually you'll become interested in the hanja, too, and it'll help your understanding.
The questions you don't aks is whether you need the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) at all. The answer is *yes*, definitely if you're serious about learning the language.

Quote:
7. Will a knowledge of Chinese characters help you with Korean?


Not to start with, but the more you advance, the more they can help. Especially if you converse with educated people.

Quote:
8. Are Koreans forgiving of the mistakes you can make in their language?


I found the appreciation to speak the language always to be greater than the being upset for addressing someone with the wrong register of politeness (happens before you get a feel of the different levels).

Quote:
9. Are there any quality Korean language self-study program with many tapes?


I'd love to hear

Quote:
10. Is Korean a tonal language?


no

Quote:
11. Are there common words between Korean and Japanese or Chinese?


Not really from Japanese, and those from Chinese have been appropriated to the extent that a learner may not recognize them anymore. There is a great deal if written down, but not that you could hear it.

Quote:
13. How quick can you begin to read a Korean newspaper?


There are different newspapers (like everywhere). If you don't know any Chinese characters, then the choice is quite limited.

Quote:
14. How difficult is it to follow a Korean movie?


That really depends on the movie, since some need quite some cultural knowledge in order to follow the story.

Quote:
15. If you can buy only 3 books to learn Korean, what should they be? (books that supplement a program with tapes)


Not Pimsleur, since it's only got 10 lessons.

Quote:
16. How useful is it to speak Korean when travelling or doing business in Korea? Can you get along with English?


You may be lucky with English in some cities (things are improving in this regard), but don't (never) count on it. Althought Koreans study many years of English, the often are unable to actually communicate. As for the business, that quite depends on the company... some companies are very focused on export and ths have at least one person proficient enough for a basic conversation...
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kidnickels
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 Message 4 of 49
24 January 2005 at 2:00pm | IP Logged 
manna wrote:

administrator wrote:
15. If you can buy only 3 books to learn Korean, what should they be? (books that supplement a program with tapes)


Not Pimsleur, since it's only got 10 lessons.


Actually, Pimsleur Korean I Comprehensive will be available in April.
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manna
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 Message 5 of 49
24 January 2005 at 2:31pm | IP Logged 
Good to know... showing my annoyance about the many different Pimsleur products, how much will a *comprehensive* course actually include. Is this level I?

Edited by manna on 24 January 2005 at 2:35pm

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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 6 of 49
24 January 2005 at 8:36pm | IP Logged 
Korean is a language in which I can probably be judged a genuine linuistic authority and I would be very happy to help with this one, but I have already answered many of these questions in other recent posts, and manna just did a great job of answering them as well, so I will limit myself here to a few matters, though I will be happy to answer any further specific questions addressed specifically to me.

On orthography: the biggest mistake I made in my own learning of Korean was neglecting hanja intially. The idea has gotten current that you don't need them for Korean, but you do, absolutely, in order to understand what words mean. Without them, you cannot get beyond "intermediate" in the language, and with them you could get to intermediate much more swiftly. This leads also to the question on common words between the East Asian languages. Over 70% of the vocabulary in both Korean and Japanese consists of loan words from Chinese characters.

Moving on to social linguistic issues: Koreans are all too forgiving of your mistakes, much too forgiving in fact, for in order to avoid "embarrassing" you, they simply will not correct them, even when you pointedly ask them to do so, and thus you can go on making the same foolish blunders and gafs for years. The answer to the final question on the utility of Korean in Korea is really subjective. I know many foreigners who have lived in Korea for years and years without learning the language, so it is not really necessary to know it, and I often felt that my efforts were given in vain to an ungrateful host. If you want to speak the language, it seems like there are always English speakers around to thwart you. However, I have also heard tales of woe and frustration from short-term travelers about getting lost or stranded and not being able to find someone to speak English with. Certainly the international language is not implanted yet to the degree that it is in other parts of the globe, but the educational system there is going full steam ahead at it, so give it a few more years, and know that you can certainly already travel with it more easily than you can in other parts of the Far East.

Finally, as to the best books with tapes to learn it, I suggest Wilfied Hermann: Lehrbuch der modernen koreanischen Sprache, Helmut Buske Verlag, Hamburg, 1995, as far and away the best. Together with a Korean colleague, I myself published A Historical, Literary, and Cultural Approach to the Korean Language with Hollym Press in 2000, and the accompanying tapes employ the shaowing methodology I have described elsewhere in this forum. FSI does have a full set of tapes for Korean, but they were very unenjoyable. Assimil has recently made a course that is surely of some value, but probably requires considerable editing.
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administrator
Hexaglot
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 Message 7 of 49
25 January 2005 at 6:41am | IP Logged 
Ardaschir:

Thank you for your invaluable input - as good as ever. Please allow me to ask you for some

precisions about certains aspects of the Korean language for the FAQs:

1)
Ardaschir wrote:
Over 70% of the vocabulary in both Korean and Japanese consists of loan words from
Chinese characters.


Does this mean that the characters are exactly the same, or somewhat the same? Are we talking

about the traditional chinese characters or the simplified characters? Are they pronounced the same? Totally differently? Similarly?

2) What sort of material can you read if you only know the Korean alphabet?

I understood that the Hanjas are extremely important, but is there any real Korean material

(books, newspapers, emails, websites) that a student could read if he does not know any Hanjas?


3) What are the main grammatical difficulties in Korean?

-You mentionned 600+ endings for verbs, is this applicable to any verbs or just some?
-Do words other than verbs decline in gender or case?
-Are there any other huge difficulties the student will have to face outside of the Hanjas, politeness, conjugation and pronunciation?

Edited by administrator on 25 January 2005 at 6:41am

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ProfArguelles
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foreignlanguageexper
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 Message 8 of 49
25 January 2005 at 8:22am | IP Logged 
Glad to be of assistance.

As to Chinese characters in both Korean and Japanese, there are some differences, of course. Korean tends to be the most conservative of the East Asian languages in continuing to use the traditional characters, while Japanese does have some abbreviated ones of its own in addition to using some of the same simplified characters now found in mainland Mandarin. However, in the overwhelming majority of cases they are exactly the same. The pronunciation, too, tends to be similar but reflective of the phonetic peculiarities of the two languages. For example, the word for "history" in Korean is "(r)yok sa," while in Japanese it is "reki shi"; "teacher" in Korean is "son saeng," while in Japanese it is "sen sei," and I could go on and on. In almost all cases the Chinese characters are the same and in many cases the words are recognizable, in context, if you know the other language. I believe that the sound shifts are probably systematic, but have never been able to find any reference works on this.

As to what you can do with Hangul alone, the answer is quite a lot. You can do all of your computer work, read modern works of fiction, fill out forms, etc. However, you are emphatically only semi-literate. You cannot read newspapers, serious works of non-fiction, historical fiction, historical markers, signs around town in general, etc. During the course of their educational process, all Koreans are required to learn 1800 characters, and there is a reason for this: they are in constant use, and any foreign learner who wishes to master the language MUST also know them. My wife practices traditional calligraphy and knows 3000+ but still has to have recourse to a hanja dictionary in order to go over her legal texts. Sorry, but the fact that Hangul is a genuine alphabet doesn't truly make the language any easier to learn, though it does mean that you can procede to basic literacy relatively swiftly.

As to the major grammatical difficulties to be faced in learning Korean, yes, all verbs have 600+ different endings. Furthermore, adjectives are also conjugated and take 500+ endings. However, there are no words that decline for gender or case as it is an agglutinating language, and anyone who does not know an agglutinating language already will take a long time adjusting to ordering his or her thoughts in this fashion.

As to other huge difficulties, I'll say once again that the sole reason I embarked upon my own Korean excursion was that I wanted the challenge of seeing whether or not I could learn the most difficult language out there, and having done so I do believe it to be such, though the distinctions in grades of difficulty between it, Japanese, and Chinese are certainly very fine. It is difficult because a) absolutely everything is different from anything that a European mind is used to, b) not only are things different, many are objectively complex (i.e., the verbal system or the stressed consonants), and c) all of this is the cultural vehicle of a mentality that often diametrically opposed to a Western way of thinking.


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